At long last, my first book…

Finally, some big progress to report…

     When I started this blog I had no intention of making it a more profanity-laden version of other KC food blogs that rush to tell the exact same stories. I also didn’t intend to have a year where I only posted two new items. I don’t claim to be a good writer, and that isn’t a humble-brag to offset the fact that I just finished my first novel. I’m a very good communicator, but as a writer I can only focus on one thing at a time and that one thing has to be inspired. Not word of god-style inspired or earth shattering, I just have to like the idea enough for it to roll around in my brain enough to grow into something worth communicating. There was no possible way I could work on putting together a book and still churn out the occasional “Food Photography- My Morning Shits After Eating KC’s Best Tasting Menus” type of material. That all has its place, the morning shit concept has made it onto my “potential blog posts” list more than once. But the book had to come first once I started down that path.

     “The Bad News Cafe” is a concept I thought of at least seventeen years ago. God knows what I was on or what I was doing when it hit me. It had staying power. In fact, I was digging through some old hard drive content to see if I could find any notes and came across two pages worth of material I wrote way back in 2003. It wasn’t horrible writing, but for a long time the concept was to make the story about the general manager of a place actually called “The Bad News Cafe” as he got ready to serve a prominent family that evening when, right before dessert, they told their patriarch that he was going to a nursing home the next morning. It was too thin of a storyline to create what I pictured, so it sat on the writing dustbin for years and years but was always in my mind. I’ll usually have two or three solid writing ideas in the hopper waiting for inspiration to hit me.

     The event that pushed The Bad News Cafe back to the top of the list was actually the fake Ra Sushi restaurant review I did a few years back. That was my favorite food related piece I’d done, and I came up with the idea to invent a restaurant in Topeka and write a blog post about how it was this cult destination where you ate when you got horrible news. I would write it realistically enough, complete with the address and phone number of an Applebee’s, for people to think it may be a real restaurant. The remote chance someone would be dumb enough to try and find it was what inspired me. So I spent time coming up with ideas to flesh it out and write about my trip to this fake restaurant. That came and went for a while as I created my new food-specific blog and wrote new material starting with the BDSM charcuterie post to christen Hunter S. Fatback.

     It was probably sometime in mid to late 2015 when a couple of very solid, core ideas struck me and forced me to choose to either abandon the idea or expand the scope significantly. It was no longer anything that could fit in a blog, so it would have to be a short story. I basically took a year to compile ideas and put together a working outline. For a long time it all revolved around approximately five plot points, each of which took time to build out with material worth wanting to write about. Then it shot beyond the scope of a short story. So it had to be a book if I was going to do it right. I knew exactly how I was going to end the book, I had that sentence set in stone. But I had no fucking clue how to open it, so while I waited for that lightning bolt I kept taking notes on the guts of it. I think I was driving home one day when it struck me…”I don’t give a fuck what you put on your hot dog”. Once I had an introduction idea and that last sentence, it was a lock. I had no idea how long it would take or how much work it would be, but I had the bones of what I believed was a unique take on the restaurant industry.

     Writing the thing was kind of like cooking…portioning and seasoning…nobody wants to read 220 pages of my usual ranting and cheap emotional bait would sound as false as some of the books I researched during my unsuccessful attempt to locate examples of “restaurant fiction”.  The wife of a big city food critic who wrote a novel about…..wait for it…..the wife of a big city food critic! And got a fucking book deal with that shit. Or life and love lessons learned working at the finest dining restaurants in the most glamorous cities. That’s the kind of stuff I’m talking about. I wanted to write something that actual industry people would enjoy that took place in their world and tried to dig deep into what drives people to their food in a meaningful way. I got help along the way as far as the technical aspects of running a restaurant, as well as the editing…holy shit that is work. Outside of that the material was dependent upon my ability to portion and season the storyline with personal experience and my expertise at completely making shit up. Will anyone besides me think it’s a success? No idea, but I stand by it.

     I think it took me about a year to gather enough ideas to fill in the skeleton and then between three and four months to write it. I did one major revision with some much-needed assistance, and then approximately one million smaller revisions. One huge change was the intro…that thing I posted here six months ago is no longer it. It’s still similar, just not a rant based on insider information. I’ll be honest; spending that much time fleshing out a storyline about a place where people eat on the worst days of their lives takes a toll. Constantly digging into the highs and lows of emotion but only writing a fraction of that material in order to make it readable…my writing is NOT the equivalent of The French Laundry, but the best comparison I can draw is the amount of effort that goes into making two cups of some insane Keller reduction in order to have two drops that garnish the plate. There are potential tear-jerker passages that are complete fiction and took almost no emotional investment, and there are single sentences based in realities that have torn my guts out for decades.

     Self-publishing was relatively painless. CreateSpace is about as affordable and straightforward as I could have hoped for. I did a ton of research via The Writer’s Market, but if you don’t have an agent you are very limited in the number of publishers you can work with. Factor in very specialized, niche publishers and the number drops further. Then when you factor in your dismal royalties plus the fact you’d be doing your own marketing anyway, the Holy Grail of “the book deal” just isn’t something to worry about. If you net $200 total in a year after your costs are covered, you’re a successful author. Plus this way I was in complete control of the content, the aesthetic, artwork, and how I interact with anyone who ends up loving or hating it. I definitely included enough trolling to allow for a sales bounce energized by negative attention. Yelpers and Alpha-Foodies are pure id that way.

      So my first novel, The Bad News Cafe, will be released at a party in Kansas City on July 31st. If you want specifics you can like/follow my Hunter S. Fatback or Bad News Cafe Facebook pages. If info isn’t already there by the time I post this, it will be soon. Online sales will start the next day. I just wanted to give family and friends who come out the first chance to see the book. My primary goal was simply to finish the damn thing and have it be something I was proud of. I’ll do some marketing for it, I’ve been researching some avenues for that, but nothing too conventional or intrusive. My biggest hope is that it will follow a path similar to how I began my word-of-mouth journey through the Kansas City food community that has resulted in more talented, driven and creative friends than I deserve. This has been an interesting, challenging, difficult and satisfying experience. I didn’t intend to write the next great American novel, I just wanted to communicate a storyline that has been in my mind for a long time. If the number of people who read and get something from it hits solid double digits, I’ll be living the dream.

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Categories: Bad News Cafe, Eating, Farm to Table, Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene, New, Slow Foods Kansas City

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